By Joanna Tovia, Houzz
This unusual house perfectly suits the needs of the family that calls it home. The dilapidated original house that had long stood on the double lot was demolished to make way for a modern, comfortable and flexible home that will grow with the family as its needs change over time.
“The site is in a strict conservation zone area, and we needed to be respectful to the local heritage environment,” says architect Kristina Sahlestrom. “But at the same time, we didn’t want to make a pastiche replica of an old house for a modern family with a great desire to be more connected to the outdoors.”
The oval interior courtyard took maximum advantage of the space available on the site and allowed two mature trees to stay put. “The courtyard was also envisaged to provide the family with both privacy and a sense of connection to each other and the space,” Sahlestrom says.
Photos by Edward Birch
Houzz at a Glance
Who lives here: A young family
Location: Subiaco, Western Australia, Australia
Size: Four bedrooms, four bathrooms
Designers: Kristina Sahlestrom and Luigi Rosselli of Luigi Rosselli Architects
Having an interior courtyard instead of a backyard was the brainchild of architect Luigi Rosselli, who envisioned a secret garden surrounded by an elliptical veranda that was carved into a cluster of connected pavilions.
“The oval courtyard slashes diagonally through the site from the entrance hall to the back gate,” Rosselli says. “The enclosed garden is a magnet for all the rooms and activities of the house.” Each pitched-roof pavilion represents one of the main rooms gathered around the oval.
This is the second house Luigi Rosselli Architects has built for the owners, a professional couple who lived overseas during the build. “They put their trust in us to deliver the vision while remaining at arm’s length from the project,” Rosselli says.
Viewed from the street, the relatively modest family home hides its secret well. The visible faces of the pavilions, aligned with the square geometry of the lot, respect the streetscape’s character. Subiaco is one of the best preserved Federation-period (about 1900-15) suburbs of Perth.
Asked what kind of design elements help the house fit into the neighborhood, Sahlestrom says the choice to make the house only one story meant that it wouldn’t dominate the street. “Additionally, the reimagining of the traditional veranda, the reuse of old materials, and traditional design elements tie the house to its surroundings,” she says.
Planning officials were receptive to the initial design because the intention was always to create a house that would be in harmony with its Federation-era streetscape. “When the design was presented to council at a meeting, it was actually applauded,” Sahlestrom says.
The gables, shutters and crisscrossed brickwork knit the new house to the early-1900s streetscape. Sahlestrom says the Subiaco neighborhood has enthusiastically adopted the new house. “The small scale of the pitched roofs, reinvented veranda and the pattern of the recycled brickwork have all been respectful to the early-1900s intact streetscape.”
The architects set out to reuse whatever materials they could from the original house. Besides creating a classic design detail that fits into the neighborhood, the lattice patterning adds interest to the house.
The pattern was composed of cleaned red-face brick, recycled from the pre-existing crumbling house and sheds, and white bricks from the demolition of plastered or painted brick walls. “The bricks from the old structures were cleaned up, with the builder taking care to leave some of the original whitewash on them to create the pattern,” Sahlestrom says.
The brickwork folds into the entry alcove. The vertical ribbed glass on the doors allows plenty of light to penetrate while providing privacy for the owners.
An oval opening in the roof of the entry hints at the shape of the interior courtyard.
As shown on the floor plan, a kitchen patio separates a granny flat from the rest of the home. Adjoining this guest unit is a garage that’s also disconnected from the rest of the living spaces.
The guest quarters, kitchen and master bedroom have views and access to the oval. Other rooms are separated from the courtyard by a hallway that runs around the perimeter.
Dark-stained jarrah wood floorboards flow from the entry to the shared living spaces and bedrooms.
Doors of woven brass mesh feature in both of the living areas at the front of the home. Here, they slide open to cover or reveal both the fireplace, shown at center, and the TV, right. The fireplace is placed so that it is shared between the formal sitting room and the family living area that connects to the kitchen.
Next door, the kitchen island features a Stone Italiana countertop and American oak cabinets that are set against recessed dark-stained jarrah to give it a floating effect. A mirrored backsplash beneath more brass mesh doors brings depth to the kitchen.
Recessed LED strips light this hallway, which follows the curve of the oval courtyard.
Routed paneling of painted American oak lines the hallways and alcoves, and conceals storage cabinets.
Subtle curves appear in other ways inside too, referencing the oval outdoors.
A curved glass-mosaic-tiled wall catches the light in this bathroom. The free-standing tub and sinks echo the oval shape outside. All four bathrooms in the house feature tile from Bisazza.
Thoughtful lighting throughout emphasizes the home’s architectural features.
Custom floor-to-ceiling cabinetry throughout the home provides a streamlined look.
Sahlestrom says the interiors reflect the “constructive tension” between the timeless pitched-roof form, traditional wood trusses, small-paned windows and modern materials — vertical sun louvers, curved glass, polished concrete and Scandinavian furniture. The bank of built-in wood cabinetry in this study, at the front of the house, makes the space took sleek and tidy yet still warm and bright.
The architects avoided designing a megastructure that would dominate the property. “The pavilions’ scale is similar to the adjacent houses, and the main trees have been saved and protected,” Sahlestrom says.
Jarrah decking follows the oval’s curve, an effect achieved by tapering every seventh board. The veranda ceiling is lined in the same way.
The family uses the “backyard” for games, sunbathing and large gatherings. “In many ways, it is also a performance space, with the rooms of the house looking on,” Sahlestrom says. “Their children play in the space, and they use it to entertain friends.”
Adjustable vertical louvers around the oval’s walls provide shade to the curved glass window opposite the entry as needed. In the background, the sitting room chimney straddles two separate roofs.
Sahlestrom made a conscious choice to restrict the more modern elements of the house, such as the vertical aluminum louvers, to the internal, less visible areas. The veranda floor was designed to seating height, creating a horseshoe-shaped bench akin to those you find in amphitheaters.
Looking north, the kitchen and family room are on the left, with the guest unit and garage at the far end. The bedrooms are on the right.
The way the building flows between inside and the protected courtyard garden is what Rosselli is most proud of about the project. “The internal and external areas flow into each other and create both a link as well as a protective buffer between the private bedroom wing and the living-dining wing.”
The patterned brickwork on the home’s street-side facade is echoed on one wall facing the oval.
Sustainability is at the core of every project Luigi Rosselli Architects takes on. “It is never an afterthought,” Sahlestrom says. In addition to reusing materials from the original house where possible, the team maximized passive cross-ventilation. Shading elements (for example, adjustable aluminum louvers on the internal courtyard, and verandas on the external and internal facades of the house) and photovoltaic solar panels for power generation were also key elements of the design from the beginning.
The kitchen, at right, has its own patio at the same floor level. Most of the lights are LED, and the courtyard can function with borrowed light from the house, Sahlestrom says.
This is the original concept sketch. It shows the proposed location of the pool — to be installed at a later date.
We asked Rosselli whether he thinks other homeowners should consider an internal courtyard instead of a traditional backyard. “Absolutely,” he says. “If the site allows for the positioning of buildings comparatively close to its boundaries to maximize the use of space, courtyard homes provide a high degree of privacy for their inhabitants while fostering an open, convivial and connected feeling within.”
Interior courtyards are great for families with younger children, he says, because parents can observe their kids at play outdoors from almost anywhere in the building without feeling that they are being overprotective.